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Northern Pakistan Slow To Recover From Floods

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Epic floods began a month ago in northern Pakistan. Unlike flooding in the south, which was vast but slow moving, the floods in the north struck quickly in the mountain passes — taking out 150 plus bridges, roads and riverside houses.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Pakistan's floods are ending, but the aftermath will last for years. Think of the aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans, except that many cities and towns were flooded throughout an entire country.

NPR's Julie McCarthy tracked the floods as they moved southward. Now she's gone back near the beginning, back to the north, to Pakistan's Swat Valley where she's on the line.

And, Julie, where are you exactly now and what do you see?

JULIE MCCARTHY: Well, at this moment, we're at a food distribution center at a place called Fatehpur. It's about as far as you can go, Steve, before the roads get completely washed out. We're heading north. And as you head north, there's a place called Kalam that is only reachable, still five weeks into this, by helicopter. It's one of the areas the Americans are pouring their aid. But at this distribution center, there are sacks of World Food Programme wheat that are piling up in front of us. People are coming for the week. They're coming for cooking oil and they're coming for high-energy biscuits. They get a month's worth of rations at a time.

There's a French NGO working here with the World Food Programme, and they say today, at least, they hope to serve about 330 families and close out, really, what will be phase one, the subsistence level emergency aid of this effort up here.

INSKEEP: What do you mean phase one? What comes after that subsistence level effort?

MCCARTHY: Well, what they'll do is they'll supplement that aid package with more food. Right now, it's just cooking oil, wheat and biscuits, so they hope to add more things to that. They're going to take a break for Eid. Eid will come. That will end the holy month of Ramadan and that will mark a one-month period. That will mark the period in which people's rations, basically, will run out.

INSKEEP: You know, you mentioned Eid. Of course, that's the festival or the feasting really that comes at the end of this holy month of Ramadan. And I'm curious, as people prepare for what is supposed to be a time of celebration, if there's any sign of a regular economy functioning? Are there, for example, parts of cities, parts of towns that were a little bit on higher ground and were not flooded and seem to be functioning normally?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, Steve, that's interesting question because I think the kind of commerce and bustle we are seeing in towns like Mingora, is in part, a tribute to Ramadan. People are out. They're buying things during the course of the day to gather to break the fast later on in the evening. And, of course, when the breaking of the fast comes, a lot of people are gathered; some are home, some are out in other places, gathered in places.

So, there tends to be an added sense of liveliness, almost, to this place in the face of all of this. However however, people who are preparing those feasts every night to break the fast, are doing it, in some cases, horrendous conditions. Yesterday, we met a woman who said to us: Five rooms of my home have been shaved off by the flood and I'm here in the stables where the animals live, and this is where I'm having to cook.

INSKEEP: Julie McCarthy, I can't let you go without noting that you're in the Swat Valley, which is famous to many people for a reason besides the floods. This was an area that the Taliban seemed to have taken over at one time, that the Pakistani military had to move into in great force. And, of course, you're in a region where there's still a very fierce insurgency.

How, if at all, have these floods affected the insurgency and the war against it?

MCCARTHY: Well, the government says that it has not, but the truth is that the army has been seconded to deal with these floods. And as you mentioned, we're in a very sensitive strategic location for Pakistan and the United States, up here in the northwest part of this country. It sits near Afghanistan.

The United States, in fact, hasn't hidden the fact that its rescue efforts up here, Steve, are really aimed, in part, at winning hearts and minds. You can find radical groups helping with relief efforts. But as I've traveled the length of this country, I have seen small operations, but nothing close to a huge relief effort rivaling perhaps the U.N.'s, on the part of these extremist groups.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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